45 Nouns for Small and Dear


Croatian (as many other languages do) has mechanisms for creating nouns standing for miniature versions of things. Those words are often applied to babies, children, and parts of them, and therefore stand for "cute" and "dear" things as well.

For instance, in Croatian you can say that a baby has a nos "nose", but people mostly say that it has a nosić "little nose". Likewise, it has a glava "head", but people prefer glavica "small head". Such words are called diminutives and usually have a different emotional content.

The main device to make diminutives is adding - (sometimes -čić) to m-nouns, -#ica to a-nouns, and -ce or -ešce to n-nouns (for the a- and n- nouns the final vowel of nom.sg. is to be thrown away first; the symbol # in -#ica should suggest that before it sounds change: k, cč, g, zž, h, sš, but that' does not always happen). Some examples:

brod "ship" → brodić
ključ "key" → ključić
kruh "bread" → kruščić
prst "finger" → prstić      
nos "nose" → nosić
vlak "train" → vlakić
zec "rabbit" → zečić
zub "tooth" → zubić
noväc "money" → novčić "small money = coin"
put "way, path" → putić "small, narrow path"

For a-nouns:

glava "head" → glavica
pčela "bee" → pčelica
krava "cow" → kravica
žena "woman, wife" → ženica    
tata "dad" → tatica
torba "bag" → torbica "purse"
ruka "hand" → ručica "small hand", "handle"
vreća "sack" → vrećica "small, shopping bag"
djëvojka "girl (formal)" → djëvojčica
cura "girl (informal)" → curica

For n-nouns, some diminutives are:

jezero "lake" → jezerce    
sunce "sun" → sunašce
selo "village" → seoce
pivo "beer" → pivce

Although this seems kind of regular, not every word makes use of a diminutive. In that aspect, there are many similarities to making possessives.

Diminutives are frequent in family names: Jurić originally meant "little Jure" = "son of Jure", Tomić "little Tomo", Nikolić "little Nikola" etc. Hence all the family names ending on -ić, a well known feature of Croatia and neighboring countries.

Another use of -ica

The suffix -#ica is also used to create feminine nouns from male ones, mostly for animals, some roles and professions; for example:

"king", "queen"kraljkraljica
"univ. student"studentstudentica

It's not so simple, unfortunately: first, for professions and roles on -ik, this ending is just replaced with -ica:

"worker, employee"radnikradnica
"pupil, student"učenikučenica

Second, this method is not universal; for some weird reasons it does not work for some words, e.g. you cannot add do this with pisäc "writer", vojnik "soldier" or svjëdok "witness". More about such words is explained later in 54 Appositions, Roles and Family Relations.

Important: such nouns, despite ending on -ica, do not mean something small, just something female.

Finally, for some words, adding -ica yields a word with a bit distant meaning, no way a feminine pair:

mornar "sailor"     mornarica "navy"
ribar "fisherman" ribarica "fishing ship"
rukav "sleeve" rukavica "glove"


Similar to diminutives are hypocorisms. Those are simply affectionate, intimate, and sometimes shortened versions of people names, like in English "Tony" from "Anthony", "Mike" from "Michael", etc. Sometimes people have such names as their real names, but often one name is "official" and a hypocorism is always used except in the most formal situations. For example, everyone called a former US president "Bill Clinton", although his official name was William Jefferson Clinton. Likewise, everyone (in media, among people) calls the former Croatian president Stipe Mesić, but in his documents (and on a ballot paper) he is actually Stjëpan Mesić.

There's no regular way to derive hypocorisms for male names, they are fixed in language but also depend on local traditions. Some often used are:

Ante (← Antun "Anthony")
Edo (← Eduard)
Franjo, Frano
Ivo, Ive (← Ivan "John")
Jure, Đuro, Jura (← Juraj "George")    
Krešo (← Krešimir)
Kruno (← Krunoslav)
Mate, Mato (← Matej "Matthew")
Mišo (← Mihovil)
Pero (← Petär "Peter")
Stipe (← Stjëpan "Stephen")
Tomo (← Tomislav)

Putting their form in nom. aside, all their forms are as we expect from a-nouns:


Some of these hypocorisms are used as real, official names. All these male hypocorisms end on a vowel. Together with some male names that end on -a but are not hypocorisms (e.g. Andrija, Luka...) they all belong to a-nouns, and have all other endings like them, but their gender is masculine animate, of course.

Warning: masculine names ending with -ko or -je (e.g. Marko, Hrvoje) do not fall into this group; they behave as (almost) regular mª-nouns.

Diminutives that are used by children also fall into this group: medo "teddy bear", zeko "bunny".

For female names, the diminutive mechanism is used. The hypocorisms are again sometimes used as true names.


Ivica, contrary to what you could expect, is a often used male name, and goes with Mate and the rest of masculine a-nouns; it's derived from Ivo, since it's an a-noun so -ica can be added to it! The same holds for Jurica, Perica and Tomica...

It's interesting to note that there are 4 words for "rabbit": zec "rabbit" (mª, mª-noun), zečica "she-rabbit" (f, a-noun), zečić "little rabbit" (mª, mª-noun), zeko "bunny" (mª, a-noun, child's word)! Yes, Croatian has many words.

Updated 2014-11-05 (v. 0.4)


Walküre said...

What would be the diminutive of "Mouse", from "Miš" (in Croatian)? It is the nickname of a young girl. I thought perhaps "Mišica", but the online translators (which I understand can be so inaccurate as to be either laughable or even offensive) translate "Mišica" as "arm". I fear making a mistake!
Please advise!

Daniel N. said...


mišica is "female mouse"

however, mišić also means "muscle", like in Latin (musmusculus - hence EN muscle)

Daniel N. said...

mišica could be a nickname, but it's really not a diminutive, it's like lavica "lioness"

mishkagora said...

In Polish, it's Mishka.

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